Steve Madewell

Pedestrian Ramblings

The loss of darkness

I had to drive to Cincinnati this past week for a work related engagement.  I wasn’t able to leave until 6:00 or so and this made for a few hours of driving after sunset.

I would have said several hours of driving after dark, but that really wasn’t the case.  We really never drove in the dark.

I am used to the drive down 71 to Columbus but I have rare occasion to continue south on this route. 

As we drove past Grove City we could smell the landfill that was designed by a friend of ours Kurt Anderson nearly thirty years ago.

He was a brilliant individual who succumbed to an inherent drive to always push the limits.  An excessive use of alcohol, drugs and some ultimate bad luck resulted in an untimely death.

Kurt had received national recognition for his design to capture and reuse the methane gas generated by the landfill.  As we drove by I wondered if the smell was the result of the single digit temperatures, a flaw in his design or some failure to maintain the system for cost cutting measures.  (Probably the latter)

There is a long stretch of 71 that goes through some exceptional farmland.  Land that feels as flat as a board and for all intense and purposes you might think you were in Iowa, so MJ que'd up Greg Brown’s “Iowa” CD as fitting music for this portion of the ride.

Of course historically this land might have had pockets of tall grass prairie, but was predominately forested at the time the first pioneers began their explorations.

It is hard to imagine just what those forests must have been like and about the best way to get any kind of descriptive idea is to look up and read some of the early surveyors journals.

I have read bits and pieces of journals from Israel Ludlow who worked in southwest Ohio and Seth Pease in northeast Ohio.  Both of these men recorded what the natural features they saw in addition to simply measuring and monumenting the countryside.

Their observations are simply fascinating.

Ohio had spectacular forests that were cleared to make way for farmland.  It was not uncommon for huge tracks of these hardwood forests to be burned over the winter months just to clear the land.

Every kid in school today knows about the loss of the rainforests but few people realize that our predecessors cleared the eastern United States in much the same way.

We were now driving through one of the most productive areas in the country for row crop agriculture on an interstate that had been built through rural, prime agricultural land.

What struck me as we drove along was how many lights there were across the landscape.

It seemed that every farmhouse or out building had a cluster of high output lights.  At every exit with a gas station there were a myriad of tall light poles.

The amount of light pollution was really disheartening.   I suppose as a culture we have been conditioned to be afraid of the dark.

That is all I can think of.  Why else would someone in rural America hang high output lights off of every building?

The opportunity to enjoy the night sky is becoming increasingly difficult to find.

When I was growing up in southwestern Ohio, one of my most engaging winter time actives was looking up at the night sky and taking in an overwhelming display of stars and planets.

It made me sad to observe this as we drove along and to think of the simple enjoyment that we are denying ourselves as a culture.

The dark is as much a part of the day as the light is.  It seems strange that we would choose to not enjoy the benefits of each.

Currently we have the privilege of living in a very lovely location and I have often marveled when a new neighbor moves in or builds a new house on our street what they choose to illuminate.  Sometime it is the length of their driveway, other times it is the porch, or garage, or outbuildings or in some cases all of the above.

And I wonder why they do this?

If they are afraid to live in a natural setting why did they move here to begin with?

Are we that afraid of the absence of light or are we afraid of what we might see in the darkness?

But I guess it is not to unlike having constant background noise on to perhaps keep us from hearing our own thoughts.

I think we listened to Greg Brown until we reached the hotel.